He said it. He really did say it. Standing before the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Tuesday morning, Sen. Ralph Hudgens threw down the gauntlet. Speaking through the media to controversial state House Speaker Glenn Richardson, Hudgens challenged Richardson to “be a man.”
Wow. It was a rare moment of political candor; a moment when the masks were off and the truth became its own weapon.
“Be a man.”
Wow. The last time I said that, I couldn’t move out of the way fast enough to miss a flying fist.
Tell a man he’s ugly and he’ll accept it. Tell him his clothes look like the disco era, that his haircut is retro and that his underarms stink and he’ll nod with acceptance.
But “be a man” is a challenge. It’s not a phrase anyone says lightly. Say it in a bar and see what happens. It’s fight’n words.
Hudgens said it with a very specific message attached: Speaker Richardson, grow up.
“Be a man.”
What prompted this unusual political challenge was Monday’s unsuccessful attempt by a group of disaffected House Republicans to unseat Richardson from his speaker’s seat. Among the rebels was Rep. Tommy Benton, who was also at Tuesday’s Chamber meeting with Hudgens and other area legislators.
So as not to take Hudgen’s remarks out of context, here’s what he said:
“While I’ve got the microphone, I want to editorialize a minute. I want to speak about Speaker Glenn Richardson. My friend here on the other end, Tommy Benton, opposed the speaker. He was public about it. He was not a politician. He was a statesman. He said that for the state of Georgia, a change in leadership was the best thing. I am calling for Glenn Richardson to be a man and accept the criticism and not give retribution to Tommy Benton. He has done this before and I publicly ask him not to do this. I ask him to be a man and accept this criticism and learn from it.”
Ouch. He said it twice.
It’s a challenge Richardson should understand. In fact, it sounds a little like the speaker himself, who often says exactly what he thinks even if it means insulting other state leaders.
And that’s the real problem here. Richardson came into the Speaker’s chair thinking he had to bully his way around to stay in power. Those who disagree with him get slammed. Those who challenge him are disregarded and rebuked.
It’s a classic political mistake of confusing authority with power and not wanting to hear any other views but those you agree with. The result is that Richardson is surrounding himself with toadies who only tell him what he wants to hear, not always what he needs to hear.
A lot of leaders have made that mistake and the result is always a backlash. Monday’s coup effort was just the beginning. If Richardson continues to act like a petty playground bully, the disaffected will eventually toss him out.
And that’s what Hudgens was trying to say to Richardson on Tuesday; don’t go after Benton and the other coup leaders. Accept their criticism. Learn from past mistakes. Get your temper under control. Lead, don’t bully. Act mature. Lose the tone of arrogance.
Or, in shorthand, “be a man.”
It’s not every day a public official calls on another elected leader with such a personal challenge. But given Richardson’s history, it was a comment that resonated loudly around the state.
“Be a man.” That just about says it all.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Voice of Reason
11/14/08 at 10:20 AM
Not only should our politicians, Republican and Democrat alike, strive to be 'men', but our media also needs to commit to be 'men', meaning they need to strive to be less biased, more honest and report the news without their own personal beliefs entering in. And I will take that even further our society as a whole needs to step up and be more responsible for themselves.
"Richardson came into the Speaker’s chair thinking he had to bully his way around to stay in power."
Power by force will always be despised . . . and will eventually result in retaliation or rebellion. Power by respect is a much longer lasting form of power that will produce followers who will follow til the end.
Congratulations to Sen. Ralph Hudgens for having a backbone.